In one of the most dangerous regions on the planet, two heroes inspire their communities

Source:IUCN   Date:2017-04-28

Fighting to preserve the natural richness of Virunga National Park is the deed of two Congolese men, Bantu Lukumba and Josué Kambasu Mukura – at the risk of their own lives. The two men are engaged in its protection in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), even if this puts their lives in danger. The park is indeed one of the most dangerous regions of the world: in the past 10 years, over 150 Congolese guards were murdered there.

Founded in 1925 during Belgian colonisation by King Albert I, Virunga National Park, a World Heritage site, is Africa’s oldest park. On the slopes of several extinct volcanoes live a third of the world’s populations of the emblematic mountain gorillas.

While it is blessed with nature, Virunga National Park is also one of the regions most threatened by corruption, by armed conflicts between the official army and rebel groups, and by the oil industry. It is precisely to act against these threats and for the preservation of wildlife that Bantu created the IPDE in partnership with the park’s national authority, the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), and other local and international organisations. But since the IPDE was established, Bantu is regularly threatened. He was arrested six times and was forced to leave the country on three occasions to avoid being killed. He also fled DRC after protesting against the oil project in the park by British company Soco.

The same kind of spirit inhabits Josué, who ceaselessly engages with local communities to raise their awareness on the importance of preserving their natural heritage. Both men strive to convince local people that within Virunga National Park lies great economic potential, a way out of out of poverty through activities that don’t threaten natural resources. Ecotourism already generates more than one million US dollars of income. More safety for the park could increase this figure to USD 235 million, benefitting local communities and creating more than 7,000 jobs.

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